Category Archives: Other Reviews
The underlying tenements of child psychology but also the structure of what parenting should be or consist of in a large sense is an interesting basis for an almost psychological horror story in “Baby Teeth” [Zoje Stage/St. Martin’s Press/320pgs]. The permeation of a mother’s relationship to her child and the logic within the child’s mind has been fodder for horror films but the relevance in the building of a sociopath is very interesting. Whether or not this is the construct of the author’s mind in some details is up for debate but it inherently shows the essence of logic versus emotion. Suzette is the mother and because of inherent medical problems which undoubtedly caused her husband to dote on her, when the arrival of her daughter comes into the world, that inherent social structure where Mommy is more important may have led to a deep seated rage and even animosity for her mother and maybe an over-arching competition for Daddy’s attention. The novel has an underlying essence of Sweden which might have to do with the author’s background. Within the essence of a character like Lisbeth Salenger in the “Dragon Tattoo” novels, this could almost serve as a childhood origin story in a twisted way. Hanna is the precocious little girl but the book takes her point of view in a balanced amount of chapters to Suzette. Her logic but also intelligence is formidable but still within the problem solving structures of a child with the exception of a proponent to violence. Her strategy and even creation of a second identity to psychologically mess with her mother is chilling. Add to that structure being able to appear the perfect daughter to her father until it cannot be hidden anymore. This is where her logic fails her. Add to this fact that Hanna is a mute for her own reasons makes for an unnerving but psychologically fascinating novel.
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of a good crime novel always comes down to a little bit of levity. Despite dark textures, it can take on a type of social commentary or sarcasm if correctly done. This is what made “Goodfellas” so palpable. “Blood Standard” [Laird Barron/G.P. Putnam’s Sons/336pgs] takes the essence of a pulp novel and integrates it with the aspect of a revenge thriller/fish-out-of-water story. Here is the focus is on Isaiah Coleridge, a hitter in the mob but seemingly with a small soft streak. He begins in Alaska but is seemingly exiled to upstate New York, a completely different but slightly similar den. The texture of the characters is relatively small time but fairly lurid in its details. The internal structures of the characters move but also because there is a method to his madness. Isaiah sees the good in others when they don’t, at times, see it in themselves. Most of all the characters are broken but not in ways they can’t be fixed. There is a dexterity of nihilism within the story but also sarcasm. Isaiah’s penchant as a bruiser is undeniable and he doesn’t push it down but details like his love of mythology to his approach of bringing a date to a made place to the aspect of taking down part of a gang because of their abuse of an animal shows a dynamic missing from some stories that take themselves too seriously. The only soft approach to this aspect is the motivation initially to dip his toe back into the life: the missing niece of his upstate NY hosts and benefactors. It seems like a wanton means for penance though he doesn’t seem like the type to adhere to such sentimentality. However the essence of loyalty does permeate both in his would-be girlfriend but definitely to his brother-in-arms Lionel who seems a lost case at times but inherently dependable in a jam. Their quips back and forth before attacking, on a stake out or even hanging out with their photographer friend Calvin in a strip club has the feelings of old school movies or “Oceans 11”…guys in heightened situations who would like to relax but have other scores that need to be settled. “Blood Standard” knows its world but peppers it with textures that are both humorous, brutal and inventive making for an efficient and bombastic read.
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of a dream lost or creativity gained is always a specific journey depending on its consequence and where it begins. With “Treeborne” [Caleb Johnson/Picador/320pgs], the painting of a small town in rural Alabama speared between the 1920s and 1950s is a very specific portrait of both race relation but also ambition or the lack of it. Told in retrospect through the eyes of Janie Treeborne in 1959, the recollections are interesting because they are both connected and disconnected, fluid and yet jagged. The focal beginnings rest on her grandfather Hugh who was an artist but also hid a secret that debilitated his need for fame in creating abstract art before there was a term for such a thing. The aspect within the novel is a slow burn, setting the settings. The life and death in terminology of Marybelle is quite telling but also steeped in metaphor. The most linear part of the story involves a kidnapping which is motivated by none other than money but takes into account the trajectory of different lives and how some merely exist and some are motivated to do more. Janie’s journey is one that is split in terms of its wants and needs. She takes after her grandfather (including a dirt boy named Crusoe that may or may not be alive). Certain scenarios of the way these parts of the story are told, of muddy river, and lightning crackling tended to bring to mind some of the lyrical and pace of “The Sound & The Fury”. Ultimately, it turns into an idea of both jealousy and complacency and what is the bigger error of judgment. In the end, lives simply turn to dust but the experiences and decisions made create a vivid if not simplistic tapestry of life in the South and choices made.
By Tim Wassberg